Last week I headed to Hood River, Oregon with First Descents (FD), an organization whose mission is “to provide life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults (age 18-39) impacted by cancer.” The outdoor adventure was whitewater kayaking (with a fabulous outfitter – Wet Planet), and true to mission of FD, the experience was life-changing in many ways.
Over the course of the week, I learned many lessons, yet perhaps the most pertinent lesson gleaned was one of being present. For the first time in a quite awhile, I found myself being fully in the moment and not thinking about a multitude of other things happening in my life. In fact, being on the river necessitated being present (to keep myself and others safe), and the river offered some gentle ‘nudges’ or reminders if my mind began to drift. Similarly, when I got too confident, the river reminded me who was in control (note: it wasn’t me); and when I finally surrendered, the river and I began to work harmoniously as one. On the river I found a sense of presence and calm; the river was my teacher, or perhaps more aptly, my guide.
Traversing the river, much like my journey through life, I experienced moments of fear and trepidation. For example, on our last day of kayaking, I decided to practice my T-rescue (a technique where you use another boat to help flip you and your kayak right side up), yet when I capsized my kayak, I panicked and was completely disoriented! I couldn’t find the nose of the other boat, my hands got twisted up, and I couldn’t get out of my own boat once I realized my attempt had gone awry! Similarly, I experienced many moments of elation and joy as I overcame challenges and witnessed my kayaking mates do the same. For example, as our trio navigated the McDonalds rapid – aptly named because it flips people over like burgers – we all managed to stay right side up, and as I bailed on our last rapid of the trip (shortly after the failed rescue attempt) I didn’t panic and I successfully exited my boat! I also met a group of inspiring adults – many of whom have been directly affected by cancer – and through our trials and tribulations on and off the river, wonderful friendships were formed.
In many ways this trip was transformative for me, reinvigorating a deep connection with nature and illuminating the river as a powerful metaphor for life. Perhaps most importantly though, it further ignited my desire to delve into and explore nature-based healing and transformation methods, to support myself and others to traverse this journey called life. I look forward to how this passion unravels and unfolds moving forward.